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Fàbregas penalty allows hamstrung Arsenal to shake off tenacious Terriers

Arsenal 2 Huddersfield 1

P Clarke (og) 22, Fàbregas 86 pen; Lee 66

Huddersfield Town lived up to their nickname of ‘The Terriers’, hounding Arsenal on their home turf and taking them to within five minutes of a replay. But a late Cesc Fàbregas penalty allowed the sub-par hosts to overcome the first half dismissal of Sébastien Squillaci to earn a fifth-round tie away to Leyton Orient next month.

These two clubs are inextricably linked by the name Herbert Chapman, the manager who left Yorkshire for London and revolutionised both Arsenal’s fortunes – taking them to their first league title in 1931 – and tactical approaches to the game in general. Chapman died during the 1933/34 season, Arsenal’s third title-winning campaign in the space of four seasons. He also led them to a 1930 FA Cup final win over his former team, but this was the clubs’ first Cup meeting since 1932.

Chapman was Arsenal’s seventh permanent manager. The eighteenth, Arsène Wenger, has had a similarly profound impact on the club, bringing new approaches to training and diet, winning three Premier League titles and overseeing the team’s move from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium.

Bendtner celebrates the opener, although it was eventually credited as an own goal (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

With a league fixture against Everton barely 48 hours away, Wenger effectively selected a second XI to play Huddersfield, with only Samir Nasri and Laurent Koscielny selected from his strongest available side:

Almunia

Eboué – Squillaci – Koscielny – Gibbs

Denilson – Diaby

Nasri

Bendtner – Chamakh – Arshavin

Smooth sailing early on

In the early minutes stages of the game, the gap of 45 places which separate Arsenal, second in the top flight and the visitors, third in League One, was all too apparent. Andrey Arshavin was particularly bright in the opening stages, prospering against Jack Hunt, who was making his full debut for Huddersfield. As early as the third minute, he blazed a good opportunity high and wide from near the penalty spot after good work down the right by Emmanuel Eboué.

Bendtner's deflected shot opened the scoring (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Twice more in the first quarter of an hour, the Russian’s trickery bought him space down the left against Hunt. On the first occasion he squared for Nicklas Bendtner, who shot wide from close range. The second time he tried to beat Ian Bennett at his near post but just dragged his shot the wrong side of the post.

Bendtner appeared to be having one of those days. After Nasri flighted a superb angled ball across the box, the Dane completely missed his shot, earning him the derision of the massed away fans at that end. But a minute later, Marouane Chamakh played him in through the inside right channel. Bendtner advanced purposefully and fired in a shot from the edge of the area which appeared to be heading wide before deflecting off Peter Clarke just inside the far post.

Having gone ahead, Arsenal’s rhythm was disrupted when, after half an hour, Nasri was forced off with a hamstring problem. The injury looks likely to rule him out for three weeks, meaning he would miss the first leg of the Champions League tie with Barcelona.

As Arsenal stuttered, Huddersfield clawed their way gradually back into the game, creating a couple of decent chances of their own. Then just before half-time Hunt surged forward from inside his own half, skipping past first a weak lunge by Denilson and then cutting inside Koscielny before Squillaci crudely body-checked him. It was a cynical challenge, for which the French international was justly shown a straight red card.

The Terriers bite back

Reduced to ten men, Wenger was forced to shuffle the pack for the second half, with Chamakh being sacrificed to allow Alex Song to be brought into the back line. But Huddersfield, emboldened by their man advantage, looked particularly dangerous in the air and created a number of chances in the first 15 minutes of the half as Arsenal’s rejigged defence wobbled.

An equaliser looked more likely than a second Arsenal goal, and when it arrived it came as no surprise. Manuel Almunia, making his first start in four months, had already made one athletic stop, throwing himself across his goal to turn away an Alan Lee header, when the same player outmuscled Abou Diaby to nod home Anthony Pilkington‘s corner. It was Lee’s first goal for the Terriers on his 26th appearance since signing from Crystal Palace, and it was thoroughly deserved.

Fàbregas to the rescue (again)

Wenger responded immediately by throwing on Fàbregas for the ineffective Diaby, and the change immediately galvanised Arsenal. Koscielny had a shot blocked, while Bendtner and Arshavin also spurned good opportunities.

Fàbregas's arrival and late penalty turned the tie back in Arsenal's favour (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

With ten minutes to go Denilson pulled up injured. Like Nasri, it appeared to be a hamstring problem, but with no substitutes remaining he manfully hobbled on. However, with Huddersfield now offering little threat – whether this was fatigue or being content to settle for a replay was unclear – Arsenal were not unduly exposed.

Instead, they pressed on and were rewarded with a later winner. Fàbregas played in Bendtner, catching Jamie McCombe on the wrong side of him. He nudged Bendtner in the back – the contact appeared relatively slight, but it did seem to be a push nonetheless – and Mark Clattenburg immediately awarded a penalty, although he did show a degree of leniency by not sending the defender off.

Fàbregas stepped forward at the same end at which he had scored a last-minute equaliser from the spot in the previous round against Leeds, and sent Bennett the wrong way before calmly stroking the ball home. Yet again, Arsenal’s captain had saved the day, but Huddersfield had played a full part in an engrossing cup tie.

Post-match reaction & analysis

Wenger admitted afterwards that it had been a difficult game:

It was tough, tough, tough, because it had all the ingredients of a typical cup game. We played a little bit below par and Huddersfield is a good team, they have shown that today.

In the end we had the quality just to make the difference and in the final 25 minutes I felt we had room to score goals. But we play so many games at the moment that sometimes we are not as sharp as we would want to be. That is what happened today.

On the subject of Squillaci’s red card, he said:

I found it harsh but you can give it or not give it. It was a foul, it didn’t look to me like an obvious goalscoring opportunity. Is he the last man? I am not sure as well. But I feared the red card and unfortunately he gave what I feared.

Arguably Eboué was in a position to come across and cover, but Squillaci looked like he had been caught flat-footed by Hunt’s run across his face and had made no attempt to play the ball. I wouldn’t argue too much about the decision. It was poor defending.

He was more generous in his assessment of McCombe’s foul for the winning penalty, however:

In the box I am a little bit more lenient than outside the box, personally. I think Fàbregas thought it was a red card. Ideally it is for the referee to make the decision. I think he made the right one.

As in previous Cup games against Leeds and Ipswich, this was a disjointed and unimpressive performance by Arsenal’s second-string, which underlined exactly why they are second choice. Aside from some positive work from Arshavin and Bendtner, there was little in the way of consistent threat going forward. Denilson’s distribution was extremely efficient but never progressive, and his defensive efforts left much to be desired. Diaby’s performance was to a degree forgivable due to his rustiness, but we nonetheless expect better from him.

Defensively, Squillaci again struggled when required to hold a high line, resulting in his ham-fisted dismissal, and Koscielny looks far less assured alongside his fellow Frenchman than he does in tandem with Johan Djourou. Kieran Gibbs, generally extremely capable when standing in for Gaël Clichy at left back, had a stinker. Almunia, one suspects, may have played his last game for the club, but at least signed off with a memorable save.

Nonetheless, Arsenal did win in the end, albeit unconvincingly. Their reward for victory is a fifth-round trip across London to face Leyton Orient, who they last played in the 1978 semi-final. They have beaten these opponents in each of their previous four FA Cup meetings, although on the last three occasions – 1952, 1972 and 1978 – they have gone on to lose 1-0 in the final. Before then, however, the Gunners host Everton on Tuesday night. Expect the full first team – minus the injured Nasri – to return as they look to close the five-point gap to Manchester United at the top of the table.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

2 Responses to Fàbregas penalty allows hamstrung Arsenal to shake off tenacious Terriers

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